It’s a little bit baffling for a guy. Well, maybe I speak too soon. There is a certain amount of logic in the idea of it. You have certain things you need throughout the day, and so you carry them around with you in a little satchel. That makes sense. But the term “little satchel” can in no way be applied to the monstrosities that many women carry around and call purses, nor is what ends up in them limited to the barest of necessities for the day. Have you ever seen a purse upended? Have you ever picked through the spilled contents and wondered for what possible purpose was this receipt, or this piece of gum, or this thank you note carried around every day for well over a year?
I know what you’re thinking: “Ha ha! Aren’t you a great sexist? You can make fun of women.” The things is, I don’t enter this topic to poke fun at women, but because I’ve realized that we all carry our purses. Thankfully, our culture doesn’t demand that men carry an actual purse. If we did, we’d no doubt lug a 200 lb bag filled with screwdrivers, wrenches, duct tape, and super glue, along with our own assortment of ancient receipts, mushed up sticks of gum, and fourteen pencil stubs. But that’s what we do emotionally. We carry around our emotional man-purses. And mine has recently been upended.
My life was turned upside down when I realized that the eternal doctrines contained in the gospel of the one true church were actually just fairy tales. I experienced the panic and the discomfort and, yes, even the embarrassment of seeing the contents of my man-purse scattered unceremoniously across the floor, and I did my best to quickly scoop everything up and jam it all back in.
The problem is, not everything fit exactly as it had before. In my haste to regain my dignity, I didn’t examine everything as it went back into the purse. A few of the larger things that I picked up off the floor, I looked at quizzically and tossed into the garbage can, sure that I no longer needed them. But it was a rush job, and I kept most things out of expediency, or habit, or because I wasn’t sure what I actually needed in life.
And now I’m walking around, still fearfully clutching my man-purse, even though I know that it’s not just the essentials it holds. Every once in a while, I open it up and peer cautiously inside, trying to root through the odds and ends. But it’s like I can attempt the process only in a dark room, ascertaining by feel alone each object in turn, and then guessing if I really need it or not.
I feel so confused. I know that my purse includes things that aren’t beneficial for me. For example, I’ve tossed out the glitter pen of faith in deity, but I’m still carrying the matching notepad of desire for assurance that faith brings. I’ve got all sorts of glittery quotes scrawled across the pages of that notepad, and I still read them from time to time. I’ve discarded the expired identity card that proclaimed me a child of god, but I still haven’t shredded the driver’s manual that explains the absolute rules to be observed by those who want to stay on the strait and narrow–though to be fair, I did tear out, with a vengeance, a few of its more particularly ridiculous pages.
I know that’s the case with monogamy. My wedding ring is no longer resting somewhere at the bottom of my purse. But what else do I carry around with me that still makes me behave as if monogamy is still the one true relationship model?
I accept the ideas behind polyamory. I know that I am not owned by–and in turn do not own–anybody. I know that my choices need to be made for the best interests in my life, and that the same applies for everyone else. I know that I wouldn’t want someone else to dictate to me what I am allowed to feel for another individual, and I wouldn’t want to make such a demand on anyone else. So why is the reality of allowing your lover to love someone else so difficult? What monogamous expectations are still hiding in my purse?
I know that life is, ultimately, meaningless. There is no absolute morality. We are animals. Advanced animals, but animals all the same. Our morals are determined by our biology. Our need to be kind to others is informed by our desire for others to be kind to us. The beginning and the end of morality is found in the golden rule. That’s really all it boils down to. As for the rest of life’s choices, personal truth can be found only through experimentation. Everyone is different, and what works for one person may not work for another.
I understand this. But I’m so afraid of making mistakes. I have spent so much of my life ensuring that my actions aligned with what I was told were the rules for happiness that even though I’ve rejected the validity of many of those rules, I still find myself searching for the reassurance of conformity. Not conformity to what other people do or think; that has never motivated me. But conformity to eternal laws. Conformity to truth. Conformity to correct principles. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to shake the belief that if I will just conform my actions to the principles of happiness, I will find happiness.
But what are the principles of happiness? There are no absolutes. So I find myself constantly trying to figure things out. How do things work? What makes people happy? Is this a correct principle? How should I behave? What should I believe? How should I feel?
I’ve had the privilege of talking to the Greek Goddess a little bit lately. She’s still unabashedly Mormon, so I know she approaches life from a certain perspective. But she’s one of the few Mormons in my life who is willing to accept that the approach I am taking in my life could possibly be valid for me. She asked me recently: “Why do you have to make yourself wrong all the time?”
I didn’t understand what she meant.
She clarified: “Why do you always beat yourself up trying to figure out how you should feel? You always discount your own feelings. You say God doesn’t exist, that there are no universal laws. Why not just allow yourself to feel what you feel and go from there?”
She has a really good point. She’s better at being an atheist than I am. I still need to understand the why of things. I still seek for the laws, the rules, the principles that should govern my choices. I’m afraid of making mistakes that will bring me unhappiness, even though I recognize that the fear of mistakes is no doubt nothing more than a result of my indoctrination. Why fear mistakes? Why not accept that life is an adventure?
I feel so trapped in my upbringing. I feel so powerless to live. I don’t believe, for example, that human sexuality is divinely appointed and thus should be reserved to the bonds of matrimony. Yet at the same time, I have this appreciation of the sacredness of sexuality. I feel it shouldn’t be expressed except in relationships with deeply emotional connections. I don’t want to make a mistake in that area. So I can’t ever imagine myself having casual sex.
I don’t believe, for example, that alcohol is the moral evil that the Mormon church makes it out to be. Yet I have a sense that alcohol should be consumed only in moderation, and I have a fear that if I drink “too much,” I will trap myself in a life of slavery to the addiction of alcoholism. I don’t want to make a mistake in that area. So I am always extremely careful with my alcohol consumption.
I don’t believe, for example, that there are divine guidelines on personal appearance. If I want a tattoo, or a piercing, or if I want to wear my hear long or wear muscle shirts, I am free to do that. Yet I have this feeling that appearance is important and that those types of things could make me appear low class. I don’t want to make a mistake in that area. So I can’t ever imagine myself looking anything but like a Mormon.
You can argue both sides in any of these cases, religion or not. And some of these matter less than others. But these are only three cases I’ve highlighted. I do this with just about everything in my life. I don’t just act. I analyze. I figure out what I think is right. And only then do I act.
But can I trust myself? In cases where what I feel is the right thing to do goes against the teachings of my childhood, then I feel confident moving forward. But in cases where what I feel coincides with the indoctrination of my youth, then I question myself. Is this what I really want? Or is this simply my Mormon programming manifesting itself in my life again?
Since I honestly believe that many Mormon tenets are also good advice for life, this means that the majority of my cautiousness aligns with the teachings of the Mormon church. And, call it silly if you want, but I feel trapped by that. I doubt myself. I wonder if I’ll ever fully disentangle myself from my indoctrination. Will I ever be me? Will I ever live? Or have I been chained to the church for life?
It’s at times like this that suicide seems a viable option. Why live with the agony of knowing that my choices are dictated by lies and that I am powerless to change the fact that those lies feel like truths in my heart? I’m not free. I may never be free. Why struggle? Why not just admit defeat and be done with it?
But I don’t feel suicidal. Suicide is a purely intellectual approach to the problem. I want to live. I want to find myself. I want to break free from the fears and doubts and proscriptions of my indoctrination.
Why do I make myself wrong? Why can’t I just go through life and do what feels good, and avoid what feels bad? And if I make a mistake, why not just accept that it’s a mistake and learn from it? Why do I have to question myself? Why do I have to seek so desperately for what is right? Why do I have to doubt myself and doubt how I feel? Why can’t I just live?
I want to live.
I want to be free. I want to have the ability to be me. And I’m pretty sure the real me is lost somewhere. Most likely there’s a small kernel of me buried at the bottom of my purse. All I have to do is clean everything out and repack only the essentials. Me. My desires. My needs. My philosophy.
All the rest is old receipts and chewing gum.
But how do I upend my purse, and how long will it take to put myself back together when I do?